Obamacare isn't Medicare
The president likes to compare Obamacare resistance to the efforts to stop Medicare and Social Security. The thinking goes that once the program is in place and people see how all the goodies are helping them, opposition will fade away.
Is that true? Not hardly.
But this time there's a difference. Political opposition to Obamacare is still as strong as ever, more than three years after it was signed into law.
That means the administration's task in launching the health care law -- the biggest new social program since the creation of Medicare in 1965 -- is harder than anything its predecessors had to face.
Between now and Oct. 1, the Obama administration has to get ready to enroll millions of people, just as Lyndon Johnson's administration did during the rollout of Medicare. And it has to put the infrastructure in place and make sure the health care industry is ready to participate, just as Johnson's people did.
But on top of all that, Obamacare has a huge extra layer of political hurdles LBJ didn't have to worry about like battling Congress for money, persuading Republican governors and legislatures to go along, and quieting the well-funded outside groups.
Republicans insist that this is what Obama and the Democrats signed up for when they decided to push ahead without Republican votes. "It's very short-sighted to think you can do something this big on a partisan basis," said Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). "At some point, you're going to need bipartisan support for the implementation."
Democrats insist that they tried to win GOP support -- especially Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, who spent months trying to negotiate a compromise with Senate Republicans -- and they wouldn't bite.
They also say it's hardly the first time a major health program was created by one party. The Medicare prescription drug program, created under the George W. Bush administration, passed Congress in 2003 almost entirely with Republican votes, including a pre-dawn House vote that was held open for nearly three hours while GOP leaders twisted arms.
And Obama administration officials don't buy the comparison to either program. The real model for Obamacare, they say, is the Massachusetts health reform law -- the one signed by Mitt Romney. It inspired the structure of Obama's health care law, and it's now so popular in that state that repeal isn't even a remote possibility.
The analogy is ridiculous. Massachusetts is hardly a microcasm of America. In fact, it is an outlier state with a 3-1 majority for Democrats in registration and a unique brand of liberalism that would fail to achieve popularity even in Democratic states like Illinois and California.
There was a national consensus for Medicare in 1965, but LBJ still made a supreme effort to make the program a bi-partisan undertaking:
But at least one veteran of the launch of Medicare -- Joseph Califano, one of LBJ's top domestic aides at the time -- isn't too surprised with the fallout of the decision to move ahead on Obamacare without GOP support.
Even though LBJ had huge Democratic majorities in 1965, he insisted that "we have to shoot for half the Republican votes, because if we don't, they'll drive us crazy -- they'll kill us on appropriations, they'll kill us with the Republican governors," recalls Califano, now the founder and chairman emeritus of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. It was a different GOP back then, but LBJ still managed to win half of the House Republicans and nearly half of the Senate Republicans.
"I don't know if Obama's problem was the incalcitrance of the Republicans or his inexperience -- probably both," said Califano. But whatever the reason for the failure to get Republican buy-in, he said, "they've got a hell of a difficult couple of years ahead."
"I won," said Obama. The implication of that statement was that he didn't need Republicans to govern. He has proven that time and time again over the years, refusing to compromise with those few Republicans who were willing to go along with some of his agenda.
Now he's in trouble and he needs the GOP to have a successful roll out of Obamacare. Why on earth should they accommodate him? He insulted them, belittled them, called them crazy and extreme. What kind of arrogant person would expect the opposition to help after all that?
Obama and the Democrats have sown the wind. Now let them reap the hurricane when the Obamacare rollout reveals the incompetence and stupidity of a party that thought it could go it alone in radicallychanging 1/6 of the American economy.